Quartet for Saxophones (1990), Tayloe Harding

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Quartet for Saxophones (1990), Tayloe Harding
Year of Composition: 1990    


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, September 10, 1999
Back saxes
Herman Trotter

TWO WORLD premieres were featured in Thursday evening's concert by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, The program, "American Variations," was in Slee Hall, VB North Campus; and will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. next Friday in Westminster Presbyterian Church.

There was enough music built on repetitive, orderly devices such as canon, phase shifting and retrograde that the program assumed an almost neo-baroque dominant tone.

The world premiere of David Sipos' "Scalindrome" was of major interest. Like a literary palindrome, it is exactly the same played forward or backward. That may sound gimmicky, but Sipos' mirror image has musical interest, too. A baritone solo in baroque-like figurations introduced the others, generating a hauntingly distant, almost middle eastern effect. Down the line the music was replete with ornamental scalar runs in canonic presentation and bold, wide interval leaps. It was so memorable that one waited eagerly for the various elements' return in retrograde (played backwards). The incessant pulse and rhythmic vitality were infectious. Fittingly, the composer changed the title at the last minute to a palindrome, "Evade Dave."

The other premiere was Charles Griffin's "Panta Rei," a pulsing, fast, free-flowing piece of tight, dense textures and few open spaces, save for an island of rather uneasy repose in the middle.

Variation in texture seemed a program objective. Elliott Carter's "Canonic Suite for Four Alto Saxophones" fit that criterion, three movements, each with abrupt endings, all strictly canonical but of different character: mechanical, dreamy and strongly fugal.

Another highlight was Jerome Moross' "Sonata for Piano Duet and Quartet," transcribed for saxes by Russ Carere. Stephen and Frieda Manes were the excellent piano duo in this very appealing work, whose American character was projected with a happy wedding of theme development with accompanying rhythmic supporting lines. The three movements were percolating, wistful and quasi-bluesy and a jaunty "boulevardier" theme sauntered through the Finale.

In Steve Reich's "Clapping Music," the musicians clapped the same rhythmic pattern then continually shifted it farther out of phase until it came full circle and back into phase. It's fiendishly difficult, must be torture to practice, but at intermission most people quizzed didn't care to hear it again. Tayloe Harding's Quartet is conventionally scored and is acrid in its harmonic bite, full of introspective groping, dissonant continuo lines, and choppy, narrow intervalled patterns. It's admirably consistent in character even if not entirely comfortable to the ear.

Evade Dave (1999), Dave Sipos
Panta Rei (1997), Charles Griffin
Canonic Suite (1945, revised 1981), Elliott Carter
Sonata (1975), Jerome Moross
Clapping Music (1972), Steve Reich
Quartet for Saxophones (1990), Tayloe Harding
Back saxes
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, December 5, 1994
Amherst Saxophone Quartet manages to soften the impact
Thomas Putnam

Consider the impact of a saxophone quartet, which makes a forceful sound that owes much to the brassy and reedy tone of the instruments. That impact owes something, too, to the character of the saxophone, which is not by nature an intimate conversationalist.

Played with the skill of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, music for the ensemble can knock you on the head and leave you smiling. The delicacies of this performing group are therefore much appreciated, as a kind of other side to the coin.

Works by Elliot A. Del Borgo and Tayloe Harding on the first part of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's program Sunday evening were fine examples of saxophone quartet writing that exploits impact. (The program will be repeated this evening at 8 in Slee Concert Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus, and again Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the Calumet Arts Cafe.)

Del Borgo's Quartet for Saxophones (1987) recites triplet-driven jazz figures, and completes the exercise in good breeding with a fugal obligation. A slow movement is wonderfully morose, and would satisfy a Russian. The finale is the boldest, outdoor brass sounds tamed. It was a vigorous hit. What also made Del Borgo's piece attractive — what made it the complete coin — was the purified writing for soprano and alto saxophones.

Harding's Quartet for Saxophones (1990) has a more urban-American sound, so there was the old West Side zip, and there was a kind of "down" sound (not really blues) of ponderous and abrasive harmonies. Harding shows signs of a minimalist leaning, which causes him to substitute for fascinating development a deadly repetition. But he whips up from this formula a genuine momentum that perhaps makes the thing convincing.

Paquito D'Rivera's "New York Suite" (1980) in four movements essentially is a jazz score, complete (or should that be incomplete?) with space for improvisations. D'Rivera drills home motivic points, and he must have heard somewhere that a classicist recycles.

The thoroughgoing pleasure was Jean Francaix's "Petit Quatuor pour Saxophones." Here is inventive percolation, insouciance, light brilliance. The French saxophone is a wonderful combination of words. This was a splendid performance by the Amherst, whose players are Salvatore Andolina, Russ Carere, Stephen Rosenthal, and Harry Fackelman.

Quartet for Saxophones (1987), Elliot A. Del Borgo
Quartet for Saxophones (1990), Tayloe Harding
New York Suite (1980), Paquito D'Rivera
Petit Quatuor pour Saxophones, Jean Francaix
Amherst Saxophone Quartet manages to soften the impact

Composer Biography

TAYLOE HARDING is the Head of the Department of Music and Associate Professor of Music at Valdosta State University. A composer, Dr. Harding's works have received performances throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan. He has received grants from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, Lila Wallace-Readers' Digest Foundation, Philip Morris, Inc.. and a variety of state and local agencies. Dr. Harding and his wife Christine Carere Harding are very proud of their family, including children Marvel, Maddie, Chase, Mimi, and Grace.

Composition Notes

Quartet for Saxophones (1990) is a work in three movements for the standard saxophone quartet. The work is traditional in its structure: the outer "fast" movements make use of angular melodies and repeating motivic fragments developed from the melodies, while the inner "slow" movement features a lyrical melody exchanged through the instruments in an evolving, but recurring homophonic texture. Each movement is also of a different form: simple arch, ABA; through composed, song-like; developmental, monothematic.